Hillary Clinton emails containing classified information were forwarded to former congressman Anthony Weiner, the director of the FBI testified Wednesday as he defended his handling of politically sensitive probes surrounding the last year’s presidential race.
Under questioning from the senior Democrat on the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., James Comey revealed more details about how Clinton’s emails ended up on Weiner’s computer.
Weiner, a New York Democrat, was married to a top aide to Clinton, Huma Abedin. Weiner was being investigated separately for possible inappropriate communications with a minor.
“Somehow, her emails were being forwarded to Anthony Weiner, including classified information,” Comey said, adding later, “His then-spouse Huma Abedin appears to have had a regular practice of forwarding emails to him for him to print out for her so she could deliver them to the secretary of state.”
The two were investigated for possible mishandling of classified material, but the FBI ultimately dropped the matter without seeking charges because they could not show either of them intended to violate the law, Comey said.
“Really the central problem we had with the whole email investigation was proving people. . . had some sense they were doing something unlawful. That was our burden and we were unable to meet it,” he said.
The director defended his decision to notify Congress that he had reopened the Clinton email probe just days before the election, saying he was forced to choose between saying something or concealing what he knew – or, as he put it, “between really bad and catastrophic.”
He added: “It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election.”
Comey said he has been interviewed by the Justice Department’s inspector general as part of an internal investigation into how the FBI handled the Clinton case.
“I want that inspection, I want my story told,” he said. “If I did something wrong, I want to hear that.”
But he added that he still thinks he behaved appropriately and had no regrets about his decisions.
“Lordy, has this been painful,” he said. “I’ve gotten all kinds of rocks thrown at me and this has been really hard, but I think I’ve done the right thing at each turn.”
Comey has been under intense pressure from both Republicans and Democrats to explain his decision-making, and he faced more criticism in Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearing was scheduled to conduct general congressional oversight of the FBI, but politically sensitive investigations quickly became the focus of lawmakers’ questions.
The chairman of the committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, opened the hearing by saying that “a cloud of doubt hangs over the FBI.” He demanded that the bureau reveal more about how it has handled the probes.
“We need to know whether there was anything improper going on between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or if these allegations are just a partisan smear campaign that manipulated our government into chasing conspiracy theories,” Grassley said.
Comey began his prepared testimony by praising the work of the FBI, citing the recent successful investigations of bomb threats against Jewish community centers, hacking networks and doctors accused of female genital mutilation.
“I love this work, I love this job, and I love it because of the mission and the people I get to work with,” he said.
Grassley’s first question to Comey was about leaks, asking Comey if he had ever been an anonymous source for stories about Clinton or Trump.
“Never,” Comey said. Asked if he had authorized someone else to speak anonymously to reporters about those cases, the director said no.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Comey what threat Russia posed to future U.S. elections. “In my view the greatest threat of any nation on earth given their intention and their capability,” Comey answered, adding that while Russia did not alter vote tallies in 2016, they have tried to do so in other countries and he said U.S. officials should expect them to try to do so in future U.S. elections.
“One of the lessons that particularly the Russians may have drawn from this is that it works,” Comey said.
Democrats repeatedly pressed Comey about his decision to notify Congress just days before the election that he was reopening the probe into Clinton’s use of a private email server for her work as secretary of state. Democrats are particularly upset about that decision because after the election, Comey acknowledged that the FBI had begun secretly investigating in late July whether any Trump associates might be working with Russian officials to meddle with the presidential campaign.
“It’s still very unclear – and I hope, director, that you will clear this up – why the FBI’s treatment of these two investigations was so dramatically different,” Feinstein said.
The FBI has already concluded that Russian intelligence hacked into Democratic computer systems and email accounts, stealing information that was published by WikiLeaks during the campaign.
Asked about WikiLeaks, Comey said he thought the anti-secrecy group was engaged in something more sinister than journalism.
“To my mind, it crosses a line when it moves from being trying to educate the public and instead becomes about intelligence porn, quite frankly,” said Comey. A “huge portion” of WikiLeaks’ activities “has nothing to do with legitimate news activity,” he said, “. . . but is simply about releasing classified information to damage the United States of America.”
The Washington Post reported last month that the Justice Department is trying to determine if it can bring criminal charges against those working for the anti-secrecy group.
On Tuesday, Clinton said the move by Comey on Oct. 28 to tell Congress that his investigators were looking at a new batch of Clinton emails helped alter the outcome of the presidential election.
“If the election had been on October 27, I would be your president,” she said at an event in New York. Clinton said that as the candidate on the ballot, she took responsibility for the loss. But she added that she was “on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me and got scared off.”
Tuesday night, Trump tweeted a fresh broadside at Comey and Clinton, saying the FBI director “was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds.” In a second tweet, he added that the “phony Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Devlin Barrett, Karoun Demirjian